Milton delays vote on cell tower ordinance

After four months of drafting and redrafting, Milton's City Council voted Monday night to wait one more week before adopting revisions to its cell tower ordinance.

By all indications, the revisions will call for a more detailed application process and more restrictive policies regarding location and height of cell towers, primarily for aesthetic purposes.

City Attorney Ken Jarrard said city staff had been working as late as Monday afternoon fielding objections from industry representatives. And while he is satisfied the draft submitted late last week was sufficient, he wants to go over the objections one more time.

The revised telecommunications ordinance requires applicants to compile a study detailing coverage areas for all existing towers and demonstrate the need for a new tower. This includes whether the tower's proposed height is the minimum necessary to achieve the required coverage. In addition to standard setbacks from roadways and residences, the applicant for any tower located adjacent to residential property must include a technical analysis of why it must be higher than 100 feet.

The city had planned to pass the revisions last month, but Attorney Jennifer Blackburn, representing Verizon, told the council that language in the proposed ordinance may have violated the Advanced Broadband Co-location Act signed into law May 24.

This latest delay stems from the same concerns.

In particular, the act requires governments to expedite applications where telecom companies plan to add to or replace equipment at an existing tower. Jarrard said the city wants to make certain the ordinance clearly differentiates between existing and new construction.

Telecom interests also want the city to relax setback requirements, arguing they are already being made to pursue stealth technologies (disguising towers as trees or flagpoles). They also object to an annual license fee, which the city says it needs to pay for inspections.

The city established a moratorium on cell tower applications in April. That month, T-Mobile South won permission to build only one of three cellphone towers it had requested. The council allowed construction of a tower at 13302 New Providence Road as long as T-Mobile submits an engineering plan for wind load requirements and the tower doesn’t exceed 100 feet. T-Mobile had sought a 150-foot tower.